The Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, including the Museum, Theatre, Petersen House and Center for Education and Leadership, will be closed on the following dates: June 2, 2013 and June 5, 2013.
With Charity For All
By Nicholas Stimler
Literary and Casting Director
Theatrical adaptations of Charles Dickens’s resonant work A Christmas Carol appear in varying forms at American theatres each holiday season, including Ford’s Theatre, an institution dedicated to promulgating the leadership virtues of President Abraham Lincoln. At first, an apparent connection is seemingly missing between Charles Dickens and Abraham Lincoln—beyond their status as historical contemporaries. But Dickens’s and Lincoln’s lives were woven by common threads: family hardship resulting in tough labor during childhood and a desire to treat all people fairly and charitably. It should be no surprise then that Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol continues to touch theatregoers’ hearts today because the tale focuses on timeless values that Lincoln championed in his lifetime—values that are hallmarks of both men’s enduring legacies.
Dickens’s connection to the working class and his belief that all people should have an equal opportunity to enjoy a free, happy and prosperous life initially made him a fervent supporter of the United States and its founding principles. Dickens hoped that, in time, England would adopt the democratic model of its former rebel colony; he hoped aristocratic privilege and chronic corruption would give way to a future where one’s worth was assessed by character and achievement. However, Dickens’s first visit to the United States in 1842 did not meet his great expectations for the fledgling nation. The aggressive efforts of Americans to extend their territories, and the controversy surrounding the expansion of slavery in those territories, disillusioned the abolitionist
Dickens. Discourse became discord in the growing country as slavery spread, ultimately leading to civil war. Abraham Lincoln was tasked to keep the union together, so that the America Dickens imagined might one day become a reality.
At the beginning of 1865, an ever-weakening South and a wounded people were raw and in desperate need of empathy and hope. In his Second Inaugural Address, delivered on March 4, 1865, Lincoln called on his fellow countrymen, both North and South, to treat their fellow citizens “with malice toward none; with charity for all…” Thirty-six days later, Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, and five days thereafter John Wilkes Booth took the life of the nation’s savior, Abraham Lincoln.
Not long after Lincoln’s death, Dickens returned to the United States in 1867 to once again tour the country and read his works aloud for crowds. A leading celebrity of his day, Dickens stopped in Washington, D.C., during his tour and met with the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. According to a letter written to his friend John Forster, Dickens asked Stanton to recount the last hours of Lincoln’s life before he went to Ford’s Theatre. In Dickens’s letter, he retells Stanton’s account of a dream the President shared with his cabinet of sitting in a boat alone and adrift in a broad river. Thereafter Lincoln said, “Gentlemen, something extraordinary is going to happen, and that very soon.” Like the
foreboding spirits who visit Ebenezer Scrooge in dreams in A Christmas Carol, Lincoln experienced dreams of his own fateful end.
Through the transformative visits of the three spirits in A Christmas Carol, Scrooge comes to know and profess that mankind and the common welfare are his business; charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence are all his business. This holiday season, and at all times, let us remember both Scrooge’s lesson learned and Lincoln’s legacy, which call us to live and act “with malice toward none; with charity for all.”
For a list of citations and dramaturgical resources, click here.
The cast of the 2009 production of "A Christmas Carol." Photo by T. Charles Erickson.